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8 Oscar De La Hoya

FOR FOUR years, WBO lightweight champion Oscar De La Hoya has
sealed each of his victories by dropping to his knees in the ring and
blowing a single kiss to the sky. It's an act of loving remembrance
for his mother, Cecilia, who died in 1990 of breast cancer at the age
of 38. Cecilia's devotion to Oscar was total; only a few months
before her death, she had delayed her radiation treatments in order
to see him win the 125-pound championship at the Goodwill Games in
Seattle. She did not even tell him of her illness until after that
fight, and when she did, she extracted a promise from her 17-year-old
son. She made him vow that he would bring a gold medal home to East
Los Angeles from the 1992 Summer Olympics, in Barcelona.
Oscar made good on his word -- it became what he calls his
obsession -- by defeating Marco Rudolph of Germany in the final. And
De La Hoya did it one- handed: After injuring his right thumb in the
semis, he relied almost entirely on his left hand against Rudolph.
''When I was on the medal platform I was so happy, but I saw my
father and my family crying,'' Oscar said in 1992. ''I didn't cry,
because I know my mom would have said, 'Don't cry. You won the gold
medal. Be happy.' She's looking down from the sky now and she's
happy, but she ain't here to hug me. That hit me after. My dream had
come true. Her dream had come true.''
De La Hoya has not stopped dreaming. After Barcelona, he became
the first Olympic boxer ever to sign a $1 million deal to turn
professional. Though he was 11-0 after one year of boxing
professionally, he was not entirely happy with his progress. He
didn't like the fact that he was fighting an average of one bout per
month and felt that his managers were rushing him. So in December
1993, De La Hoya bought out his managers and took control of his
career himself. Three months later, in March 1994, he seized his
first pro title, taking a decision from WBO junior lightweight champ
Jimmi Bredahl. Five months after that, he stepped up five pounds, to
135, and knocked out Jorge Paez in the second round to add the WBO
lightweight crown. As of January, his record as a pro was 16-0, with
15 of those wins coming by knockout.
De La Hoya's goal is to win a record six title belts before he
turns 28, and with six years to go, he is well on his way. ''I won
the gold for my mom,'' says Oscar. ''Now the championships will be
for me.''
With those title belts may come heavyweight-style riches:
Promoters believe De La Hoya's appeal is so broad that he will fight
in pay-per-view bouts that they envision drawing TV gates worth $150
million. The attraction begins with his incendiary talent; he'll earn
those bucks with the bang he carries in both gloves. At 5 ft. 10 in.,
he is tall for a lightweight, which gives him an edge in reach and
leverage. He has a monstrous left hook and hands so fast that some
call him the Hispanic Sugar Ray Leonard. As Oscar himself puts it,
''I can be slick, and I can slug.''
De La Hoya comes with a boxing heritage and a natural charm as
well. His grandfather Vicente was an amateur featherweight in the
'40s in Durango, Mexico, and his father, Joel, was 9-3-1 as a pro
lightweight in Los Angeles and Durango in the mid-'60s. Oscar speaks
Spanish and English fluently and favors words like ''gosh'' over the
generally bluer lexicon of the fight game. His wholesome image has
already earned him endorsements from a shaving-gel company and a
long-distance phone carrier; he also has his own line of workout
And finally, De La Hoya figures to be a draw because of the
compelling ingredients of his life story. After growing up in
gang-riddled East L.A., he has come very far, very fast, in and out
of the ring, always honoring the memory of his mother. ''To win the
gold,'' De La Hoya says, ''it has to come from your heart.'' And
with that heart, he has a chance to do what no fighter has done